What to consider as restaurant tech leaps forward

How to harness the right type of restaurant technology amid a confusing array of options?

That’s a question many restaurant operators are wrestling with as the number of available tech solutions continues to grow—and rapidly. In fact, 62% of operators second-guess their ability to keep up with technology, according to an Oracle study referenced on day three of the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show.

Read on for more takeaways from the Show’s tech-focused SuperSession, “The Future of Restaurants.”

Overwhelmed by the options?

When trying to cut through the noise, the best thing restaurateurs can do is get out there, start talking to people and find out what their peers’ pain points around certain technologies are, said Allison Page, co-founder and chief product officer for restaurant reservation platform SevenRooms. Operators should have a clear picture of how they’re going to make money off a tech vendor’s product, she said, noting that the most important question an operator can ask a prospective vendor is: What’s the ROI?

Get ahead

Embrace emerging technology, said Christopher Thomas-Moore, vice president of global e-commerce and digital marketing for Domino’s, adding that being an early adopter gives an organization time to refine tech systems and apply them to its business in meaningful ways. Still, “Technology for technology’s sake is never beneficial for the organization,” he said. Testing is key when it comes to considering and implementing new tech, and restaurants should make sure they have the data to understand that technology’s impact across various touchpoints.

A labor replacer?

For those concerned that tech will result in lost jobs, the session’s panelists didn’t seem so convinced. In foodservice, staff turnover is a major issue, and an expensive one, with restaurants hiring someone new around every 45 days, said Melissa Burghardt, chief operating officer of Miso Robotics, the company behind burger-flipping robot Flippy. As the demand for prepared food continues to grow, she said, “we’re actually going to have a shortfall of hands needed to prepare food going forward.”

The service equation

If technology won’t replace human capital, will it cause hospitality to disappear? Again, perhaps not. Tech provides an opportunity to shift resources and free up room for customer service, Thomas-Moore said. At Domino’s, the brand believes in the value of hand-stretching its pizza dough, so that’s not likely something it would automate, he said; however, technology can take over the more planned, structured tasks in a restaurant so staff can focus on delivering a prime experience and the personal touches a brand considers important.

‘2 sides of the coin’

Not everyone is seeking a so-called frictionless experience when they go out to eat. Some customers come into the restaurant wanting to speak to no one and have a wholly digital experience, while others crave something more high-touch and social, Thomas-Moore said.

Food preferences are similarly going in two polarized directions: toward the more convenient or the more personalized. As consumers get used to the data-driven personalization they experience with brands such as Netflix and Spotify, that is getting baked into their expectations in other areas, the panelists said, with Burghardt noting that “food is content.”

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